Irish Trees: Myth, Legend and Folklore Paperback – 1 Apr 2003
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'Attractive and deeply informative book' Sunday Tribune 'One of the first feelings that come to mind upon opening the pages of Irish Trees: Myths, Legends and Folklore is ... at last!' Wild Ireland 'An exhaustive compendium' Irish Examiner 'Excellent book with super illustration' Bray People
From the Back Cover
Name the five Great Trees of Ireland? What trees are most often found beside holy wells or cemeteries? Which tree gave the Red Branch Knights of Ulster their name?
Ancient Ireland was once heavily wooded and a squirrel could travel from Cork to Killarney without touching the ground. So it is no surprise that the mythology and folklore of trees were part of everyday life. A sprig of mountain ash tied to the tails of livestock kept the fairies from harming them. A staff of blackthorn was the best to have when out walking at night to ward off evil spirits.
This book, beautifully illustrated in specially-commissioned watercolours by Grania Langrishe, brings together the myths, legends and folklore associated with the native Irish trees. There are two main themes: the tree as a marker of important places, such as a royal site or holy well, and the role of different trees as sources of magical power in folk customs and traditions. Many 'powers' were common to different trees in spheres as diverse as fertility, magic, and the tree as a link between this world and the spiritual.
Indeed trees had such influence the creators of the Ogham alphabet named each letter after a tree based on the seasonal cycle of trees, and the link between each letter and its tree is described here. Finally, the author presents an Ogham calendar with each month named after the tree most closely associated with it.See all Product description
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I loved the full page color illustrations; I think they really added to the sensory experience of the book. Mac Coitir does eventually explain "this is why I think Nion is wild cherry and not ash", et cetera, but that section is practically the last thing in the book. By that point, I've already had 200 pages to get all outraged at the apparantly arbitrary and unsubstantiated associations. If the explanations had come first, or at least been mentioned ("later we will explore..."), it would have saved me a lot of outrage. [grin] He explains his reasoning well, but with rather more speculation than I'm comfortable with. He's obviously steeped in scholarship and not afraid to dive into Old Irish linguistics, and that rocks. He constructs plausible theories for language shift and alphabet development. He cites sources I haven't read already, and my Amazon wishlist is suddenly bigger. [grin] That rocks too. But I think that on some of these associations, he's really reaching, and the answer should be "I don't know" or "we don't have enough evidence" or even "this is my pet theory" rather than "This is how it should be/is/was!". Helloooo, Graves!
His biggest sin is perhaps an understandable one -- when the extant body of Irish evidence is lacking, he turns to other cultures. It's a very strong temptation... but I was somewhat annoyed at "here's what the Greeks thought of the pine tree, here's what the Norse had to say about the ash". Those cultures have their own rich traditions, but they don't necessarily bear on Celtic symbolism. If I wanted a book on cross-cultural tree folklore, I would have gotten one. (I own several, in fact.)
Although I don't agree with all of his conclusions, I loved the last 40 pages of the book for its in depth exposition and exploration of Old Irish, modern Irish, botany, and folklore. Lots of interesting little finds in there, and a thousand jumping off points for further research. Now if only he'd told me why he thinks Ogham is a result of the Latin alphabet... I've heard that theory aired before, but would like to see some support for it. I now have lots to think about, and he sent me diving for my dictionaries a lot, but there are also places that I so strongly disagree with him.
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